Joy is not simply a feeling of happiness. It is the presence of peace and contentment that has the power to sustain us even when our lives are challenging and stressful. Joy is something you create by intentionally doing things that bring pleasure, peace, or purpose to our lives. Here are 15 things—some simple, some more elaborate—you can do to create joy in your life.
Joy can come through accomplishing something worthwhile, so pick up a hobby or a task you enjoy (or something new you want to learn) and master it. Take a class at a local community college or ask a friend who is an expert to teach you. Tutorials for hundreds of activities are available for free on YouTube. Woodworking, quilting, gardening, cooking, sailing, painting, singing, the possibilities are endless. You’re never too old to learn something new, and once you do, the sense of accomplishment you’ll feel will bring satisfaction and contentment to your soul.
Even if it’s just a 10-minute walk through the park, being outdoors—in the sunlight—can rejuvenate the soul. Take time to think about the beauty and variety of nature. What can you do outside? Go stargazing, take a hike, go sailing, learn to fish, go geocaching with your kids, explore a state or national park, swing on the swings, shoot some hoops, relax in a hammock.
If you have a habit of thinking negatively or criticizing yourself, learn how to break that habit. One way to do this is to evaluate each day. Before you go to bed, pull out a journal or notebook and write down one negative thing about the day—a mistake you made or something you neglected to do, perhaps. But then write down three positive things that occurred during the day, no matter how small. As you make a habit of this, you’ll begin to find that it’s easier and easier to reflect on the positive. You’ll also find that for each negative in life, there is nearly always a positive to counteract it. Knowing just how many good things happen during a day will help you go to sleep feeling accomplished.
Let yourself take a break from the pressures of the daily grind when you need to, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Replenishing yourself leaves you better prepared to do your best in your other responsibilities and to take care of those who rely on you. Need some ideas? Get a pedicure, meet a friend for coffee, take a nap, get a massage, read a book, watch a movie. Do something you enjoy and let yourself enjoy it; no worrying about what else you could be doing at the moment!
Make a list of all you have to be grateful for or write a thank-you note to a colleague, relative, or friend. A recent study demonstrated that even months after writing a thank-you note or participating in some sort of written gratitude exercise (making a list of all your blessings, for example), participants could still feel the positive neural benefits of expressing gratitude.
Seek out the divine.
If you’re religious, make time to regularly worship. Pray to God and think of Him as you admire His creations. Meet often with likeminded friends to discuss your blessings, serve others, and recognize the divine in one another. A relationship with God can introduce powerful, positive emotions—awe, wonder, gratitude, love, respect—into our lives, which in turn can strengthen us and bring us peace.
Take time to laugh.
Celebrated journalist Linda Ellerbee, who started her career presenting news to adults but then later made a career of explaining the world’s news to children, said, “I have always felt that laughter in the face of reality is probably the finest sound there is and will last until the day when the game is called on account of darkness. In this world, a good time to laugh is any time you can.” Try adding some laughter to your day: watch a comedy, read a great joke book, turn an event on its head and try to laugh about it. That famous adage about laughter being the best medicine is surprisingly accurate.
Do something active.
Find a friend to throw a Frisbee with, take a hike, go for a swim, go bowling, dance in your living room.
Take a quick look at the past.
Feeling a little down in the dumps or ungrateful? Scroll through some old pictures on your phone or flip through a scrapbook. Remembering good times in the past—the feel of the sand on your feet during that beach vacation, the look on your child’s face Christmas morning, the picnic last Fourth of July—can bring an instant smile to your face and help remind you of how much you have to be grateful for.
Meditation allows you to pause and be mindful of only one small thing at a time. You can meditate on your own at home, in a yoga class at the gym, or even while doing tai chi in the park. Mediation reduces stress, generates energy, makes it easier to fall asleep at night, provides emotional stability, and may even help you live longer.
Savor the moment.
Sometimes, all you need to do to bring you back to reality—and let a little joy seep in—is savor a moment of pleasure. It’s easy to find small ways throughout the day to truly enjoy what you’re doing. Eat a piece of dark chocolate, sit back and close your eyes while listening to your favorite song, watch the sun set (or rise), read a book to a child and pay attention to their eyes and expression as they follow along, enjoy a cup of tea while breathing in its scent and steam.
Take a hot bath.
Ditch your smart phone and tablet and escape into a warm, relaxing bath. Bring a book if you want, or just close your eyes and soak in the steam and scent. A simple bath can wash away stress, help you relax, and leave you feeling renewed. Try mixing a few drops of an essential oil, such as lavender or sandalwood, with 2 cups Epsom salt then dissolving the salt in the water before soaking. The salt will relax your muscles while the aroma relaxes your mind.
Tackle something you don’t want to.
Sometimes a little tough love can work wonders. When you force yourself to do something you don’t want to but need to, you generate a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction, which can boost the way you feel about yourself. So, if you find yourself stuck in the middle of the day, feeling down or discouraged, go tackle one small thing you normally don’t love—the laundry, a sink full of dishes, the weeds in the garden, the mess on your desk. Losing yourself in hard work for a bit can be surprisingly cathartic.
Act like a kid.
Allow yourself to take time off now and then to act like a kid. Run through the sprinklers; roller skate; blow bubbles at the part; try out a hula hoop; finger paint; color; play tag with your own kids; lay on your back and look up at the clouds, pointing out shapes and designs as you do.
Use essential oils.
Diffusing or applying a blend of essential oils while you work—or play—has surprising benefits to health and well-being. And better health (less anxiety and reduced pain, for example) leads to an increase of joy and gratitude in our lives. One study has shown that lavender oil not only promotes better sleep but also helps women suffering from depression. When blended with the essential oil rosemary, lavender has likewise been shown to reduce anxiety during test taking. Sandalwood has been shown to relieve anxiety in patients receiving palliative care. Application of ylang ylang can lower blood pressure and promote relaxation. Recent research into the use of bergamot essential oil to treat chronic pain shows great promise for those who deal with sciatica.
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